The courthouse doors crashed open as I led my three sisters into the large foyer. I didn’t mean to push so hard, but hell, I was mad and worried about being eaten. The cool spring breeze slapped at my back as I stepped inside, yet it did little to cool my temper or my nerves.
My nose scented the vampires before my eyes caught them emerging from the shadows. There were six of them, wearing dark suits, Ray-Bans, and obnoxious little grins. Two bolted the doors tight behind us, while the others frisked us for weapons.
I can’t believe we we’re in vampire court. So much for avoiding the perilous world of the supernatural.
Emme trembled beside me. She had every right to be scared. We were strong, but our combined abilities couldn’t trump a roomful of bloodsucking beasts. “Celia,” she whispered, her voice shaking. “Maybe we shouldn’t have come.”
Like we had a choice. “Just stay close to me, Emme.” My muscles tensed as the vampire’s hands swept the length of my body and through my long curls. I didn’t like him touching me, and neither did my inner tigress. My fingers itched with the need to protrude my claws.
When he finally released me, I stepped closer to Emme while I scanned the foyer for a possible escape route. Next to me, the vampire searching Taran got a little daring with his pat-down. But he was messing with the wrong sister.
“If you touch my ass one more time, fang boy, I swear to God I’ll light you on fire.” The vampire quickly removed his hands when a spark of blue flame ignited from Taran’s fingertips.
Shayna, conversely, flashed a lively smile when the vampire searching her found her toothpicks. Her grin widened when he returned her seemingly harmless little sticks, unaware of how deadly they were in her hands. “Thanks, dude.” She shoved the box back into the pocket of her slacks.
“They’re clear.” The guard grinned at Emme and licked his lips. “This way.” He motioned her to follow. Emme cowered. Taran showed no fear and plowed ahead. She tossed her dark, wavy hair and strutted into the courtroom like the diva she was, wearing a tiny white mini dress that contrasted with her deep olive skin. I didn’t fail to notice the guards’ gazes glued to Taran’s shapely figure. Nor did I miss when their incisors lengthened, ready to bite.
I urged Emme and Shayna forward. “Go. I’ll watch your backs.” I whipped around to snarl at the guards. The vampires’ smiles faltered when they saw my fangs protrude. Like most beings, they probably didn’t know what I was, but they seemed to recognize that I was potentially lethal, despite my petite frame.
I followed my sisters into the large courtroom. The place reminded me of a picture I’d seen of the
witch trials. Rows
of dark wood pews lined the center aisle, and wide rustic planks comprised the
floor. Unlike the photo I recalled, every window was boarded shut, and
paintings of vampires hung on every inch of available wall space. One
particular image epitomized the vampire stereotype perfectly. It showed a male
vampire entwined with two naked women on a bed of roses and jewels. The women
appeared completely enamored of the vampire, even while blood dripped from
their necks. Salem
The vampire spectators scrutinized us as we approached along the center aisle. Many had accessorized their expensive attire with diamond jewelry and watches that probably cost more than my car. Their glares told me they didn’t appreciate my cotton T-shirt, peasant skirt, and flip-flops. I was twenty-five years old; it’s not like I didn’t know how to dress. But, hell, other fabrics and shoes were way more expensive to replace when I changed into my other form.
I spotted our accuser as we stalked our way to the front of the assembly. Even in a courtroom crammed with young and sexy vampires, Misha Aleksandr stood out. His tall, muscular frame filled his fitted suit, and his long blond hair brushed against his shoulders. Death, it seemed, looked damn good. Yet it wasn’t his height or his wealth or even his striking features that captivated me. He possessed a fierce presence that commanded the room. Misha Aleksandr was a force to be reckoned with, but, strangely enough, so was I.
Misha had “requested” our presence in
after charging us with the murder of one of his family members. We had two
choices: appear in court or be hunted for the rest of our lives. The whole
situation sucked. We’d stayed hidden from the supernatural world for so long.
Now not only had we been forced into the limelight, but we also faced the
possibility of dying some twisted, Rob Zombie–inspired death. Sacramento
Of course, God forbid that would make Taran shut her trap. She leaned in close to me. “Celia, how about I gather some magic-borne sunlight and fry these assholes?” she whispered in Spanish.
A few of the vampires behind us muttered and hissed, causing uproar among the rest. If they didn’t like us before, they sure as hell hated us then.
Shayna laughed nervously, but maintained her perky demeanor. “I think some of them understand the lingo, dude.”
I recognized Taran’s desire to burn the vamps to blood and ash, but I didn’t agree with it. Conjuring such power would leave her drained and vulnerable, easy prey for the master vampires, who would be immune to her sunlight. Besides, we were already in trouble with one master for killing his keep. We didn’t need to be hunted by the entire leeching species.
The procession halted in a strangely wide-open area before a raised dais. There were no chairs or tables, nothing we could use as weapons against the judges or the angry mob amassed behind us.
My eyes focused on one of the boarded windows. The light honey-colored wood frame didn’t match the darker boards. I guessed the last defendant had tried to escape. Judging from the claw marks running from beneath the frame to where I stood, he, she, or it hadn’t made it.
I looked up from the deeply scratched floor to find Misha’s intense gaze on me. We locked eyes, predator to predator, neither of us the type to back down. You’re trying to intimidate the wrong gal, pretty boy. I don’t scare easily.
Shayna slapped her hand over her face and shook her head, her long black ponytail waving behind her. “For Pete’s sake, Celia, can’t you be a little friendlier?” She flashed Misha a grin that made her blue eyes sparkle. “How’s it going, dude?”
Shayna said “dude” a lot, ever since dating some idiot claiming to be a professional surfer. The term fit her sunny personality and eventually grew on us.
Misha didn’t appear taken by her charm. He eyed her as if she’d asked him to make her a garlic pizza in the shape of a cross. I laughed; I couldn’t help it. Leave it to Shayna to try to befriend the guy who’ll probably suck us dry by sundown.
At the sound of my chuckle, Misha regarded me slowly. His head tilted slightly as his full lips curved into a sensual smile. I would have preferred a vicious stare—I knew how to deal with those. For a moment, I thought he’d somehow made my clothes disappear and I was standing there like the bleeding hoochies in that awful painting.
The judges’ sudden arrival gave me an excuse to glance away. There were four, each wearing a formal robe of red velvet with an elaborate powdered wig. They were probably several centuries old, but like all vampires, they didn’t appear a day over thirty. Their splendor easily surpassed the beauty of any mere mortal. I guessed the whole “sucky, sucky, me love you all night” lifestyle paid off for them.
The judges regally assumed their places on the raised dais. Behind them hung a giant plasma screen, which appeared out of place in this century-old building. Did they plan to watch a movie while they decided how best to disembowel us?
A female judge motioned Misha forward with a Queen Elizabeth hand wave. A long, thick scar angled from the corner of her left jaw across her throat. Someone had tried to behead her. To scar a vampire like that, the culprit had likely used a gold blade reinforced with lethal magic. Apparently, even that blade hadn’t been enough. I gathered she commanded the fang-fest Parliament, since her marble nameplate read, Chief Justice Antoinette Malika. Judge Malika didn’t strike me as the warm and cuddly sort. Her lips were pursed into a tight line and her elongating fangs locked over her lower lip. I only hoped she’d snacked before her arrival.
At a nod from Judge Malika, Misha began. “Members of the High Court, I thank you for your audience.” A Russian accent underscored his deep voice. “I hereby charge Celia, Taran, Shayna, and Emme Wird with the murder of my family member, David Geller.”
“Wird? More like Weird,” a vamp in the audience mumbled. The smaller vamp next to him adjusted his bow tie nervously when I snarled.
Oh, yeah, like we’ve never heard that before, jerk.
The sole male judge slapped a heavy leather-bound book on the long table and whipped out a feather quill. “Celia Wird. State your position.”
I exchanged glances with my sisters; they didn’t seem to know what Captain Pointy Teeth meant either. Taran shrugged. “Who gives a shit? Just say something.”
I waved a hand. “Um. Registered nurse?”
Judging by his “please don’t make me eat you before the proceedings” scowl, and the snickering behind us, I hadn’t provided him with the appropriate response.
He enunciated every word carefully and slowly so as to not further confuse my obviously feeble and inferior mind. “Position in the supernatural world.”
“We’ve tried to avoid your world.” I gave Taran the evil eye. “For the most part. But if you must know, I’m a tigress.”
“Weretigress,” he said as he wrote.
“I’m not a were,” I interjected defensively.
He huffed. “Can you change into a tigress or not?”
“Well, yes. But that doesn’t make me a were.”
The vamps behind us buzzed with feverish whispers while the judges’ eyes narrowed suspiciously. Not knowing what we were made them nervous. A nervous vamp was a dangerous vamp. And the room was bursting with them.
“What I mean is, unlike a were, I can change parts of my body without turning into my beast completely.” And unlike anything else on earth, I could also shift―disappear under and across solid ground and resurface unscathed. But they didn’t need to know that little tidbit. Nor did they need to know I couldn’t heal my injuries. If it weren’t for Emme’s unique ability to heal herself and others, my sisters and I would have died long ago.
“Fascinating,” he said in a way that clearly meant I wasn’t. The feather quill didn’t come with an eraser. And the judge obviously didn’t appreciate my making him mess up his book. He dipped his pen into his little inkwell and scribbled out what he’d just written before addressing Taran. “Taran Wird, position?”
“I can release magic into the forms of fire and lightning—”
“Very well, witch.” The vamp scrawled.
“I’m not a witch, asshole.”
The judge threw his plume on the table, agitated. Judge Malika fixed her frown on Taran. “What did you say?”
Nobody flashed a vixen grin better than Taran. “I said, ‘I’m not a witch. Ass. Hole.’”
Emme whimpered, ready to hurl from the stress. Shayna giggled and threw an arm around Taran. “She’s just kidding, dude!”
No. Taran didn’t kid. Hell, she didn’t even know any knock-knock jokes. She shrugged off Shayna, unwilling to back down. She wouldn’t listen to Shayna. But she would listen to me.
“Just answer the question, Taran.”
The muscles on Taran’s jaw tightened, but she did as I asked. “I make fire, light—”
“Fire-breather.” Captain Personality wrote quickly.
“I’m not a—”
He cut her off. “Shayna Wird?”
“Well, dude, I throw knives—”
“Knife thrower,” he said, ready to get this little meet-and-greet over and done with.
Shayna did throw knives. That was true. She could also transform pieces of wood into razor-sharp weapons and manipulate alloys. All she needed was metal somewhere on her body and a little focus. For her safety, though, “knife thrower” seemed less threatening.
“And you, Emme Wird?”
“Um. Ah. I can move things with my mind—”
“Gypsy,” the half-wit interpreted.
I supposed “telekinetic” was too big a word for this idiot. Then again, unlike typical telekinetics, Emme could do more than bend a few forks. I sighed. Tigress, fire-breather, knife thrower, and Gypsy. We sounded like the headliners for a freak show. All we needed was a bearded lady. I sighed. That’s what happens when you’re the bizarre products of a back-fired curse.
Misha glanced at us quickly before stepping forward once more. “I will present Mr. Hank Miller and Mr. Timothy Brown as witnesses—” Taran exhaled dramatically and twirled her hair like she was bored. Misha glared at her before finishing. “I do not doubt justice will be served.”
Judge Zhahara Nadim, who resembled more of an Egyptian queen than someone who should be stuffed into a powdered wig, surprised me by leering at Misha like she wanted his head for a lawn ornament. I didn’t know what he’d done to piss her off; yet knowing we weren’t the only ones hated brought me a strange sense of comfort. She narrowed her eyes at Misha, like all predators do before they strike, and called forward someone named “Destiny.” I didn’t know Destiny, but I knew she was no vampire the moment she strutted onto the dais.
I tried to remain impassive. However, I really wanted to run away screaming. Short of sporting a few tails and some extra digits, Destiny was the freakiest thing I’d ever seen. Not only did she lack the allure all vampires possessed, but her fashion sense bordered on disastrous. She wore black patterned tights, white strappy sandals, and a hideous black-and-white polka-dot turtleneck. I guessed she sought to draw attention from her lime green zebra-print miniskirt. And, my God, her makeup was abominable. Black kohl outlined her bright fuchsia lips, and mint green shadow ringed her eyes.
“This is a perfect example of why I don’t wear makeup,” I told Taran.
Taran stepped forward with her hands on her hips. “How the hell is she a witness? I didn’t see her at the club that night! And Lord knows she would’ve stuck out.”
Emme trembled beside me. “Taran, please don’t get us killed!”
I gave my youngest sister’s hand a squeeze. “Steady, Emme.”
Judge Malika called Misha’s two witnesses forward. “Mr. Miller and Mr. Brown, which of you gentlemen would like to go first?”
Both “gentlemen” took one gander at Destiny and scrambled away from her. It was never a good sign when something scared a vampire. Hank, the bigger of the two vamps, shoved Tim forward.
“You may begin,” Judge Malika commanded. “Just concentrate on what you saw that night. Destiny?”
The four judges swiftly donned protective earwear, like construction workers used, just as a guard flipped a switch next to the flat-screen. At first, I thought the judges toyed with us. Even with heightened senses, how could they hear the testimony through those ridiculous ear guards? Before I could protest, Destiny enthusiastically approached Tim and grabbed his head. Tim’s immediate bloodcurdling screams caused the rest of us to cover our ears. Every hair on my body stood at attention. What freaked me out was that he wasn’t the one on trial.
Emme’s fair freckled skin blanched so severely, I feared she’d pass out. Shayna stood frozen with her jaw open while Taran and I exchanged “oh, shit” glances. I was about to start the “let’s get the hell out of here” ball rolling when images from Tim’s mind appeared on the screen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Complete with sound effects, we relived the night of David’s murder. Misha straightened when he saw David soar out of Taran’s window in flames, but otherwise he did not react. Nor did Misha blink when what remained of David burst into ashes on our lawn. Still, I sensed his fury. The image moved to a close-up of Hank’s shocked face and finished with the four of us scowling down at the blood and ash.
Destiny abruptly released the sobbing Tim, who collapsed on the floor. Mucus oozed from his nose and mouth. I didn’t even know vamps were capable of such body fluids.
At last, Taran finally seemed to understand the deep shittiness of our situation. “Son of a bitch,” she whispered.
Hank gawked at Tim before addressing the judges. “If it pleases the court, I swear on my honor I witnessed exactly what Tim Brown did about David Geller’s murder. My version would be of no further benefit.”
Malika shrugged indifferently. “Very well, you’re excused.” She turned toward us while Hank hurried back to his seat. “As you just saw, we have ways to expose the truth. Destiny is able to extract memories, but she cannot alter them. Likewise, during Destiny’s time with you, you will be unable to change what you saw. You’ll only review what has already come to pass.”
I frowned. “How do we know you’re telling us the truth?”
Malika peered down her nose at me. “What choice do you have? Now, which of you is first?”
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